Meet Jody-Layne; One of Africa's greatest creative minds

Jody-Layne,the man with a plan


Jody-Layne Surtie is a creative producer who has honed his skills through grabbing every opportunity that came his way and making the most of it. Despite his education in Graphic design early on in Zambia, he chose to do what sparked passion in him – television, video and show production. TAP met up with this African creative maverick in Kigali at the sidelines of the Next Einstein Forum to chat on what he has been up to lately and to learn more about AfroShow Productions.

You first made your mark in the publishing world then did a complete 360 and worked in television. Why the change?

Simply because I wanted to do more. I got into publishing in Zambia after returning from the UK. I published my first magazine at the age of 16. At 24, I got an opportunity to publish a complete business and investment guide to Zambia which went worldwide. I came to the realization that publishing was not the only media line for me, it was not enough and the zeal for it was not there anymore. So when I was given the opportunity to do all my creative work in South Africa, I did not look back and South Africa was the beginning of my transition to television.

Walk our readers through your journey at SABC.

After relocating to South Africa, I basically ended up in television and broadcasting, I’m self-trained as a producer and scriptwriter. I never went to broadcast school or anything like that but I pushed myself as far as I could in South Africa, I did very well here and I attribute it to practice and hard work. Practice makes perfect so the more work I got the better my skill became. I was also given the opportunity to work on sports development documentaries for the FIFA World Cup 2010, where I was then given the responsibility at The South African Broadcasting Corporation to be part of the management team as an Executive Producer to start a news channel, and to create fresh television programs. The corporate management of the channel became boring for me. I got tired of sitting in offices and meetings, so I left the SABC so that I could go out and get my hands dirty again.

With such great strides in your career, you ought to have some accolades you have received.

I’ve never received an award for any of my work, because I’ve never submitted it to any award organisation for recognition and not to the South African film awards.I feel that creative work and the audiences are more important to me than an award.

Everything you do seems to be centered on passion. Why is this important for you?

Yes, you have to be passionate about the things you want to do. When I gave up an entire management career with The South Africa Broadcasting, I went freelance and got an opportunity to produce my own creative shows. I worked on jazz festivals so jazz became a passion for me. I am also passionate about the arts in Africa and that has sparked the birth of AfroShow Productions.

How did AfroShow productions come to be?

I visited Kigali on my own in 2016. I explored the city and I fell in love with it ! I had been knocking on doors to try and do some work here and I met some interesting Rwandan business people, who are now my partners. We decided to do a joint collaboration and registered a company in Rwanda, AfroShow Productions. We approached a few corporations and fortunately for us African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) gave us an opportunity to work with them on the Next Einstein Forum 2018. We’ve worked with local artists and we’re working to nurture more talent.

So more artist scouting is in the works for AfroShow productions?

Definitely. I really hope we can do a lot more work here. I’d love to engage more people from the region to work with us and I would gladly help to nurture talent in the region if I can.

What do you love the most about Rwanda?

I love that Rwanda is competing with the rest of the world; they want to lift the bar as high as possible. I love to work in a country like this that is nurturing itself despite its challenges.

As a producer, how do you go about choosing an artist to include in your show?

When it comes to finding and picking talent that you need to do a show with, you’ve got to create a concept that works for your client first and then you’ve got to think about what the country identifies itself with.

As a producer what was the thinking behind the NEF Opening ceremony show?

Based on every corporate opening show I’ve attended here in Rwanda, they have four common elements that they tend to use. They have the traditional ballet dancers, the traditional drum, the traditional dress and the traditional songs. Nobody has presented it in a different perspective. That is what we do, we develop themes to match the event. In this case, the next Einstein Forum is based on science and technology, and they are talking about bringing science into Africa and nurturing Africans to become scientists, there is your answer. We created an opening show that blends science technology with African art forms.

What advice would you give the young African creative who is knocking on doors trying to be the next Jody-Layne?

Passion; it’s the key to it all. We were all 22 years old once upon a time and money was the most important thing but don’t look at the money. I know everybody needs to survive and that’s where the difficult part comes in. We tend to become, as we call it, commercial art because it becomes a commercial need. I’d say let your passion drive your creativity. The rest will follow… but only if you are dedicated to what you want to achieve.

What, in your opinion, is the reason artists are still struggling and lacking opportunities here?

The challenge here, like everywhere else, including South Africa, is that there are a lot of opportunities but not everyone gets them. The wrong people get these opportunities and the artist is not one of them. It is still about who you know to get you what you want in this kind of society. The so called gatekeepers are hindering the growth of artistry for the youth. If countries like Rwanda are able to drive that vision for the young people and provide them with opportunities, the creatives will be noticed

What’s lacking in the arts in Africa?

Everything about Africa is perceived to be all about poverty - a child in bare feet, people on dirty streets, Africans suffering and fighting political wars. I’m sorry, there’s a lot more we have to offer. Modern buildings are not Africa. Modern streets are not Africa. We have a lot to offer in terms of culture and traditions. We need to bring that into the arts to portray ourselves in a better light for the world to recognize us because we have a future that they want to be part of. We can make a difference.

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